Vietnam bans Barbie movie over pro-Chinese map of disputed S. China Sea

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Vietnam’s communist government has banned domestic screenings of the forthcoming film “Barbie” over a scene from the movie that shows a map of China’s expansive maritime claims in the South China Sea, according to reports from Asia.

The highly-anticipated Warner Brothers movie includes a scene showing China’s “Nine-Dash Line” — a U-shaped border covering most of the sea that Beijing claims as its territory and other states, including Vietnam and the United States, say is international waters.

“Barbie,” based on the iconic doll and among the most heavily promoted movies of the summer, stars Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling and was set to be released in Vietnam on July 21.

The film will be released in the United States on that date. A spokeswoman for Warner Bros. had no immediate response to an email request for comment on the controversy. Vietnam’s state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper announced the ban.

“We do not grant [a] license for the American movie ‘Barbie’ to release in Vietnam because it contains the offending image of the Nine-Dash Line,” the newspaper stated, citing Vi Kien Thanh, director of the Department of Cinema, the government agency in charge of licensing and censoring foreign films, Reuters reported from Hanoi.

Vietnam previously has banned other films and television series for including similar depictions of contested Chinese maritime border claims, DreamWorks’ animated movie “Abominable” in 2019 and Sony’s “Uncharted” last year.

It is not clear why producers of the film would include a scene supporting China’s South China Sea claims, given the sensitivities in Hanoi and other capitals across East Asia. Speculation, however, centers on producers seeking access for the film to the lucrative Chinese movie market drawn from a population of 1.4 billion potential ticket buyers.

A report by two Army officers published by the Naval Postgraduate School concluded that China’s market clout is influencing Hollywood studios and the government is using American films to promote communist propaganda as part of a larger strategy seeking global hegemony.

Hollywood established financial ties to the Chinese film industry, one of the world’s largest movie markets, years ago and the ties have been used as leverage by the Chinese Communist Party, the report said.

“The resulting financial influence has given Chinese film studios the placement and access necessary to change the content of American films, while forcing American film studios to self-censor to appease Beijing’s sensibilities,” the report by Army Maj. Morgan A. Martin and Maj. Clinton J. Williamson concluded.

The report noted that Disney Co. worked closely with Chinese authorities for the remake of the 2020 movie “Mulan,” based on an original Chinese tale.

Sony Pictures also gave in to Chinese government pressure in making changes to the 2014 film “Robocop” and the 2012 film “Red Dawn.”

Sony, however, rejected Chinese censors’ demands last year to remove the Statue of Liberty from a scene in “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” Studio executives were eager for the revenue that could be gained in China but rejected changes to the climactic scene.

Vietnam for at least a decade has been locked in a maritime dispute with China over the Paracel Islands that both nations claim as their territory. In 2016, the Netherlands-based Permanent Court of Arbitration rejected China’s claims to owning 90% of the South China Sea, in a case brought by the Philippines in 2013.

The tribunal ruled that “there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the ‘Nine-Dash Line.’”

China’s government rejected the findings and continues to insist most of the South China Sea is its sovereign maritime territory.

Vietnam has claimed the Paracels are within its exclusive economic zone, an area designated under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The convention states that nations can claim territorial seas stretching 12 nautical miles from their coasts, including islands, but excluding rocks and submerged features.

The economic zones extend some 200 miles from coasts and can be used for fishing, mining and harvesting other deep-sea resources.

The U.S. Navy has been pushing back against China’s far-reaching claims by conducting warship transits through the South China Sea nearly every month.

China began building up islands in the South China Sea starting in 2012 and according to the Pentagon has now reclaimed an estimated 3,200 acres of the disputed islands. Some of the islands have been militarized with air bases and missiles.

On July 11, 2022, Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement urging China to abide by its obligations under international law and cease its provocative behavior.

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